There may not be a more prestigious honor than being named the captain of an NHL team. Unlike other sports, the large "C" on the jersey is something that has been around for decades and if you're chosen to wear it, you are a special talent in many ways.
Every team, however, has those fans that either love or hate their captain. I am sure everyone on this list will have fans in both corners. However I looked at this objectively to pick my best and worst captains. There are a lot of things that go into what makes a great captain. Most of the players on the best list have led their teams to at least one Stanley Cup win. The rest have showed on and off the ice that they are great leaders and have won numerous awards in the NHL.
The worst captains are a motley crew of overpriced players, players that may be too young to be captain and players who maybe were once good captains but have fallen off a cliff in the last few years. This was an interesting concept for an article because at the time of writing, 12 teams have had a captain for less than one season (four teams have no captain at all).
15 Best - Mikko Koivu
Mikko Koivu is pretty much the first and only legit captain in Minnesota Wild history. From the 2000-01 season until the 2008-09 season the Wild had a revolving door of captains. They would pretty much change captains every month. Such "legends" like Jim Dowd, Willie Mitchell, Alex Henry and Brad Bombardir ruined the mystique of being a NHL captain during this time. One steady presence was their assistant captain Mikko Koivu. Koivu even took a couple turns as Captain bur he became the permanent Captain in October of 2009. Since then he has taken over this team,
Even when high priced free agents like Zach Parise and Ryan Suter were added to the team, Koivu's leadership was never questioned. Koivu is the all time leader in points, power play points and games played for the Wild. Koivu doesn't put up a lot of points but if you have a face off in your end with a one goal lead, you want him to be taking the draw. No team relies on their captain more than the Wild and Koivu rises to the occasion.
14 Worst - Zdeno Chara
If this was even five years ago I doubt Zdeno Chara would find himself on this list. However, these last few years have not been kind to the hulking Slovak. At 39 years of age it is obvious that Chara's best years are behind him. At his peak Chara was one of the most intimidating players in the NHL. His hit on Max Pacioretty almost led to criminal charges for Chara. Chara has been captain of the Bruins since the 2006-07 NHL season and he was at his best during the 2011-12 season where he had 12 goals and 42 assists in 79 games. Teams knew not to mess with the Bruins because they had Chara. Chara created space for whoever was on the ice and his teammates respected him for it.
However Chara now has slowed down considerably, he struggled this last season, scoring 9 goals and adding 28 assists in 79 games. It was a huge upgrade from the season before where Chara had only 20 points on the season. The fact that Chara makes $6.9 million a season however makes the expectations for him much higher, especially when you consider the trade of young D-man Dougie Hamilton was due to salary cap concerns. Chara used to be one of the best defensemen in the NHL but those days are gone and that sadly finds him on the list for the worst captains in the NHL.
13 Best - John Tavares
You don't have to be a big and boisterous person to be a great captain. The New York Islanders' John Tavares is a perfect example of that fact. He won't be the guy talking trash in the media. He won't be the player making guarantees of his team's success like Ovechkin. What Tavares does is just lead by example. He takes a stand on the ice and stands up for his teammates. Even as a rookie in the NHL he was looked to as a leader on the Islanders.
The Islanders made him captain on September 10th, 2013. Tavares had his best season during the 2014-15 NHL season with 38 goals and 48 assists. Tavares has led his team to the playoffs in back to back seasons, reaching the 2nd round for the first time last season. In the playoffs, Tavares has shown to be a true leader of his team with 11 goals and 11 assists in 24 games (half of which came last season) Tavares is still young but you can see the foundation of a truly great captain.
12 Worst - Henrik Sedin
Henrik Sedin very much embodies the spirit of the Vancouver Canucks. He achieves high stats during the regular season but can't seem to get it done in the playoffs. The Vancouver Canucks had a stretch where they were one of the best teams in the league and at that time Henrik Sedin was their unquestioned leader. He reached career highs during the 2009-10 NHL season with 29 goals and 83 assists for 112 points. Those days are long gone for both the team and the player. Last season, despite making $7 million a season Sedin struggled to 11 goals and 44 assists in 74 games and the Canucks finished well out of the playoffs.
Since their magical run to the finals the Canucks have not won a playoff series. Sedin has a combined 12 points in those three series. The Canucks only go as far as Sedin leads them and it doesn't look good for their chances now as Sedin gets older and slower.
11 Best - Erik Karlsson
There is no better defenseman in the NHL than Erik Karlsson (despite whatever Twitter campaign Drew Doughty is running this season). Karlsson has taken over the Ottawa Senators. The Senators took a huge risk back in 2012 signing their young talented budding star to a long term deal at $6.5 million a season. Some analysts said it was awful but Karlsson has proved them all wrong. Last season was his career best statistically as he had 16 goals and 66 assists for 82 points. He finished 4th in scoring in the NHL last season. He is stabilizing force on the Senators having not missed a game in two seasons.
The Sens made a historic comeback in the 2014-15 NHL season going on a tear in Karlsson's first season as captain. He may not have led the Sens to the promised land yet but he is a two time Norris trophy winner and a player any NHL franchise would sell their soul to get. This makes Karlsson easily one of the best current captains in the NHL.
10 Worst - Mark Giordano
Mark Giordano is an interesting case as captain of the Calgary Flames. He once fled the team to join the Russian Super League duirng the 2007-08 NHL season due to being unable to get the contract he wanted from the Flames. That doesn't seem like the best leadership quality to flee when you don't get what you want. Giordano came back after one season overseas and started to establish himself on a very weak Flames team. Giordano set the NHL on fire during the 2014-15 season with 48 points in 61 games before a devastating injury knocked him out for the season. Giordano will make $6.75 million for the next six years, which will make him 38 at the end of the term. For a player that has struggled with injuries that is a scary thought. Giordano has missed 61 games between the 2011-12 and 2014-15 NHL seasons.
He is the highest paid player on the Flames roster but there isn't many who would say he is their best player. The Flames are a team on the rise and if Giordano can lead this team to some postseason success, (he has never played a playoff game) he could find himself off this list in the future.
9 Best - Alexander Ovechkin
A couple of years ago Alexander Ovechkin might have found himself on the other side of this list. Under the mentorship of Barry Trotz, Ovechkin has become a complete player who stands up for his teammates. A player that fires up his teammate (as proven by his Game 7 guarantee in the 2015 playoffs) he failed in his Messier moment through no fault of his own as Ovie scored his team's only goal and had the team on his back. The Ovie of old likely would have choked in the moment. Ovechkin has become this complete player without sacrificing his offensive ability, having scored over 50 goals a year the last three seasons.
The Capitals are on the cusp of winning a Stanley Cup and if Ovechkin cannot find a way to win the big one, it is very easy to see him back on the worst list soon. To his credit, Ovechkin has 41 goals and 41 assists for 82 points in 82 career playoff games. Ovechkin has three MVP awards, six Rocket Richard trophies, and three Ted Lindsay Awards. He just needs the big one now to cement his reputation as one of the greatest leaders in the NHL.
8 Worst - Max Pacioretty
Captains are relied upon to lead teams to greatness. They are supposed to be able to bring lesser teams to some semblance of success and lead good teams to great heights. They also are supposed to be looked to as a leading force in the locker room and making sure the team runs harmoniously. Max Pacioretty failed at this in every aspect during the 2015-16 season. He allegedly carried a feud with star player P.K. Subban, which may have had a part in his trade to the Nashville Predators (a trade that most pundits think the habs lost).
The Habs lost star goalie Carey Price to an injury early in the season and the team never seemed to recover. They played scared, they played way under expectations and actually missed the playoffs last season. Pacioretty had a decent season himself scoring 30 goals and adding 34 assists. However he was unable to lead his team in any way shape or form. The team collapsed and Pacioretty wasn't able to right the ship which is a bad sign for a captain. No team makes it through a season unscathed by injuries. The good teams seem to recover, but the Pacioretty led Habs failed to do this and that falls (partly) on the captain.
7 Best - Ryan Getzlaf
Ryan Getzlaf has been a stabilizing influence for his teammates on the Anaheim Ducks. Getzlaf was named captain prior to the 2010-11 NHL season but Getzlaf's leadership ability goes way beyond the ice. Ryan Getzlaf played junior with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League, and to this day Getzlaf maintains a program with the Calgary Hitmen called "Getzlaf's Gamers," which allows underprivileged children to attend games. It is a selfless act that makes countless kids happy. It is very similar to how Ryan Getzlaf plays the game of hockey. He will never be the guy that scores 50 goals in a season but at least 50 assists is something he has achieved six times thus far in his career, leading the Ducks in assists for the last eight seasons. He is always looking to set up his teammates and this selfless play has led to much success for his Ducks' teams.
In the playoffs, Ryan Getzlaf has excelled with 29 goals and 70 assists in 104 career games and one Stanley Cup win. Ryan Getzlaf has been a finalist for the last two years for the Mark Messier Leadership Award. Last season was a down year for Getzlaf and the Ducks but if their track record is anything to go by then the 2016-17 NHL season should be a big one for Getzlaf and the team.
6 Worst - Nick Foligno
Nick Foligno is an interesting case as one of the worst captains in the NHL. He had a hell of a great season during the 2014-15 season. He reached career highs of 31 goals and 42 assists for 73 points. It was shortly after this great year that the Blue Jackets announced on May 20th, 2015 that Foligno was the new captain, filling the void that Rick Nash left in 2012. Foligno was also signed to a huge contract extension ($5.5 million a year for the next five seasons). What happened? He took a nosedive in every statistical category imaginable. He struggled last season, as he had 12 goals and 25 assists in 72 games played. His team lost the first eight games of the season leading to their head coach being fired. Anything that could have gone wrong for Nick Foligno went wrong last season.
His leadership will be tested more than ever this season as it is truly his team now. Ryan Johansen is long gone, and Foligno will be relied upon to lead this team back to some semblance of success. The addition of Seth Jones for a full season will shore up the back end and bounce back seasons from Brandon Dubinksy and Brandon Saad should help Foligno focus on his game instead of trying to be the hero every night. Nick has the potential to be a great captain in the NHL. This season will be a big indicator of his future.
5 Best - Shane Doan
No player has meant more to his franchise than what Shane Doan has meant to the Coyotes. He has been with the team through three different names (Winnipeg Jets, Phoenix Coyotes, Arizona Coyotes). Having never played for another franchise, Shane Doan has repeatedly shown his loyalty and leadership to a usually struggling Coyotes team. Shane Doan is the longest tenured captain in the NHL, having been named captain during the 2003-04 NHL season. Shane Doan led his team in scoring from 2003 until 2011, taking a struggling team on his back for many of those seasons.
Every year it seems he is a subject of a trade to a contender so he can finally win a cup but Doan always declines. Shane Doan is respected all around the NHL. You rarely hear anyone say a bad word about the guy. Shane Doan was the winner of the Mark Messier Leadership award in 2012. Doan has played 1,466 games in his career and has 945 points in that time. Doan will be captain of the Coyotes until he decides to retire. The Coyotes are his team and even though he is getting older, there really is no one else to take over at this time. Whoever becomes the next captain will have big shoes to fill to say the least.
4 Worst - Gabriel Landeskog
Gabriel Landeskog was named captain of the Colorado Avalanche on September 4th, 2012. Landeskog became the youngest captain in NHL history at the age of 19 years and 286 days. Since then Landeskog and the Avalanche have struggled to reach expectations. Landeskog has struggled with injuries, already only playing 36 games during the lockout season of 2012-13 where the Avalanche finished dead last in the Western Conference.
It seems Landeskog has stalled as a player and a lot of that has to be tied to the added pressure of being captain at such a young age. Landeskog has no discipline as evidenced by his 292 PIMs in his career thus far. Landeskog has struggled in the playoffs as well, adding 4 points in 7 games. Unless Landeskog turns the corner and becomes the player the Avalanche expected him to be, he won't be the captain much longer.
3 Best - Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby is not only one of the greatest captains in the NHL but he is trusted by his country to lead his team into battle in every international competition he plays in these days. This year Sidney Crosby captains a team full of captains for team Canada in the World Cup. As hated as he is by some, he is beloved by others. Whether you love him or hate him, Crosby has established himself as one of the greatest players in the NHL. Crosby showed his leadership ability early on in his career as he was offered the C during the 2006-07 season but he declined, as he didn't want to disrupt the team chemistry.
He was named captain on May 31st, 2007 at the time being the youngest captain in NHL history (19 years, 297 days, which has since been beaten by Landeskog). No one can deny Sidney Crosby's success in hockey. He has led his Penguins to two Stanley Cups and two Olympic Gold Medals with Team Canada. He has been named the winner of the Mark Messier Leadership award twice (in 2007 and 2010). His track record speaks for itself. Crosby won the Conn Smythe trophy this season after the Penguins won the Stanley Cup. Sidney Crosby is at his best in the playoffs, where he has scored 49 goals and added 88 assists for 137 points in 124 games, which ranks him 3rd among active players despite playing 84 games less than leader Jaromir Jagr and 77 less than Marian Hossa (Hossa only has 8 more points). Since joining the NHL, the Penguins have been Crosby's team and that shows no sign of changing any time soon.
2 Worst - Brian Gionta
The Buffalo Sabres are in the middle of an entire rebuild of their roster. So of course they have a "rebuild worthy" captain to protect their young players like Brian Gionta. Gionta is coming off a disappointing season last year where he scored 12 goals and added 21 assists. He is on the tail end of his career to say the least, as he is 37. Yet unlike Chara he doesn't have the intimidation factor working for him. Gionta stands at 5'7 and he used to gain respect by playing much bigger than his stature, but that time has passed. He was once one of the best scorers in the NHL as he set career highs during the 2005-06 NHL season with 48 goals and 42 assists. He was solid defensively as well which isn't the case anymore as he was a minus-5 last season. At the end of the day Brian Gionta is doing the role that the Sabres want from him. He is a transitional captain until Jack Eichel is ready to take over.
1 Best - Jonathan Toews
The Chicago Blackhawks have been Jonathan Toews' team since the day he was drafted. The Blackhawks named him captain on July 18th, 2008 making Toews the 4th youngest captain of all time. He was however named cCaptain after the shortest amount of career games played at only 64. Since becoming captain, Toews has led the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cup wins (2010, 2013, and 2015). Toews won the Conn Smythe trophy in 2010 where he led the Hawks with 7 goals and 22 assists in 22 games. The best players play great in the playoffs and Toews has 39 goals, 69 assists and 108 points in 124 games.
The NHL has recognized Toews great leadership ability, with Toews winning the Mark Messier Leadership Award in 2015 after being a finalist in 2013 and 2014. Patrick Kane might get all the headlines out of Chicago but it is Toews' stable influence on the ice that allows Kane to be so free to create scoring chances like he does. Toews leads this team on the ice and off of it. No player has had a bad thing to say about Toews' leadership ability in the locker room. The Blackhawks had long been a struggling franchise and it is no small coincidence that all this changed with the arrival of "Captain Serious" Jonathan Toews.